BOSTON (CBS) — No matter how many opportunities you offer them, this year’s Boston Bruins just aren’t going to accept any excuses.
They proved as much for the umpteenth time of the young season on Saturday afternoon, battling back from an early 2-0 hole and working against an officiating crew seemingly determined to play a role in the outcome. In total, Bruins skaters were whistled for nine minor penalties, many of which were questionable calls at best. Despite allowing Tampa to score on its first two power plays, the Bruins managed to bear down and keep the Lightning off the board for the final 51 minutes of the game.
“I don’t think there was any panic in our dressing room as far as we were concerned,” coach Claude Julien said of the mood in the locker room after the first period. “We just had to try and stay out of the penalty box.”
That proved to be easier said than done, with Jay Pandolfo going to the box for boarding midway through the second period (the fourth boarding call of the game and third on Boston) and Andrew Ference going off for four minutes after high-sticking Nate Thompson and causing injury late in the period.
It was that four-minute Tampa Bay power play which was the pivotal moment of the game. With an explosive power play unit which ranks near the top of the league and had already scored twice on the man advantage, and with a certified sniper in Steven Stamkos on the ice, the Lightning looked to be in perfect position to score the go-ahead goal and seize the momentum heading into second intermission.
Instead, thanks to an all-out team effort from the Bruins’ penalty killers, the Lightning managed to get just one shot on net in the entire four-minute power play.
“We got away a little bit from what we were doing on the penalty kill in the first two goals,” said Patrice Bergeron, who logged 4:58 of short-handed time on ice. “We just tightened that up a bit and just went back to doing the little things and taking away their dangerous guys and … trying to find ways to be aggressive when there’s a loose puck.”
“It was one of those games tonight where there were a lot of penalties called, and it was tough for everybody mentally, but we had to stay composed and deal with it,” Julien said.
The success of the penalty kill, which is still tops in the league, was nothing new. The success of the power play, which ranks near the bottom of the NHL, was surely a sight for sorry eyes at the TD Garden. The Bruins entered the game without a power play goal on home ice all year. The groans were audible in the first period when the Bruins failed to score on their first power play of the night, so confidence (at least from the crowd’s perspective) was not at an all-time high when the power-play unit got its first chance of the second period just two minutes after the first intermission.
Yet the unit of David Krejci, Dougie Hamilton, Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic had looked good in its last few times on the ice, and some great puck movement set up Seguin with a nice opportunity from low in the left faceoff circle. Then, Seguin did his best Stamkos impression, sniping top shelf over Mathieu Garon’s right shoulder to get the Bruins on the board and wake up the home crowd.
“I thought tonight we did a great job,” Seguin said of the power play. “We were trying new things. We were talking about the power play the last few days even more. Thought it was a good job tonight.”
The power play again came through in the game’s final minutes, when the Bruins had a four-minute man advantage of their own, courtesy of a Brendan Mikkelson high stick on Milan Lucic. Aided by a bad mistake by Stamkos to miss the net on a short-handed rush, Patrice Bergeron took advantage of a gift-wrapped situation by carrying the puck over the blue line and passing to Brad Marchand on the left wing. Marchand’s shot went top shelf, giving the Bruins a 3-2 lead with just 2:16 remaining in the game.
“It’s big,” Marchand said of the power play’s two goals. “We needed those tonight. That’s what we need our power play to do — step up at the right times and get us in the game. Especially when we’re down by a couple, we need our power play to step up and get us momentum. We’re happy that happened tonight.”
While the power play certainly came through, it was the work of the penalty kill and the players’ team-wide mentality of not giving up when their environment gave them every reason to.
That attitude carried over into the postgame locker room, when Milan Lucic grew somewhat tired of answering questions about the referees.
“You know what? I feel like there’s too much conversation about what the refs are doing,” Lucic, who was penalized with an iffy boarding call, said. “I’m not too worried about the refs, our team’s not worried about the refs. We don’t want to be known as a team that’s complaining, or I don’t want to be known as a player that’s complaining for getting [penalties] called on and not getting calls. It’s just the way of the game, it’s just the way things happen, and you gotta deal with it when it happens.”
It’s a mentality that clearly comes from the coach on down.
“We’re just poised. That’s why I talk about a character win,” Julien said. “It would have been easy for us with all the different things happening, with some tough calls and everything else, to get away from our game. One thing I mentioned to our guys after the first period is that I didn’t want us to stop finishing our checks. I didn’t want us to get away from our game, because this is what we are. Whether they are good calls or questionable calls, it didn’t matter. We just had to try to stay out of the box and not get away from our game. And that’s what our guys were trying to do.
“At one point you have to trust that your game will get you where you want, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”